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Thursday, May 27, 2004

More Strawberries

Another snip of the story started below under the title, "Of Strawberries and Salvation". I think once the story actually takes shape, I'll be changing the name, though I do like it...Both remain in pure draft form, but this section came to me as I tried to fall asleep Tuesday night. There are a lot of kinks to be worked out, and I think there is at least one more section of the story that will go before the part below, but I haven't figured it out yet...

In the first part, I tipped my hat to Flannery O'Connor, and nodded toward Tolkein (did you spot that reference???) In this installment I quote a long-time fav band, at www.overtherhine.com...I know I'm not a martyr.

Here it is, warts and all.

Of Strawberries and Salvation, pt. 2

At night, the house seemed even more lonely and empty. Noises at night are so much louder than they are during the day, and every creak and groan of the old house, every dripping faucet, echoed more after the sun went down.

I couldn’t sleep in our bed anymore, mostly because it still felt like HE was there. I tried it the first night after I returned from spending a week with my sister; the first night I was alone in the house. I wrestled with sleep for hours, getting close to the point of actual sleep, but waking in anticipation of him joining me in bed as he always had. Once I finally fell completely asleep, I jolted awake soon after, expecting to feel him next to me.

I took to sleeping in the spare bedroom downstairs, in one of the matching twin beds that we had moved in there after his parents sold their house and moved to Florida. They were the beds he and his twin brother slept on until they left home for college. The beds still reminded me of him, but not like our bedroom did.

The spare bedroom had been added to the house a few years before we bought it, and it didn’t have air conditioning ducts which meant that the only way to pull coolness into the room was to leave the door open to the rest of the house. By the first of August it was unbearably hot at night, even with the door open to allow the cool air in from the kitchen area.

By the second week of the month, I had fallen into the habit of spending a few restless hours sweating in the bed before getting up and going outside to stare at the stars until sunrise. After the sun came up, I would go back inside to sleep for a few hours on the couch, something I had convinced myself I couldn’t do at night, but didn’t mind during the day.

I knew this sleep pattern was both unhealthy, and impractical. I had finally called Principal Miller and accepted the part-time library job at the High School, even though I didn’t think I would survive there past the first week of school. The idea of my first job since I was in High School myself being among those young, yet perplexing beings called teenagers would be a challenge in itself, but my survival was even less likely if I weren’t able to get myself back on some reasonable schedule.

“One more night,” I told myself as I slipped my feet into the sandals by the back door and slipped myself quietly down the stairs into the back yard. When I reached the clearing at the far end of the property, I was startled by the sight of so many stars. The night was less humid and clearer than any in several weeks, and the black velvet of the cosmos was pricked full of star-points. The moon had set early, leaving only starlight for illumination.

I shoved my hands deep in my pockets and shivered, even though I wasn’t cold, and I could feel the note that had been waiting on the kitchen counter when I brought the strawberries in. It was as if it had appeared there on its own, though obviously that wasn’t the case. For a minute I wondered who had been in my house while I was gone, until it dawned on me. I had read the note once, folded it, tucked it away, and went about cleaning the strawberries.

As I thought about the note’s contents, I noticed a streak of light across the sky: a falling star.

Since starting my late-night star gazing expeditions, I had begun spending time in the astronomy section of the library, reading up on various celestial phenomena. It was something new, something that had never interested me before, and something difficult for me to contemplate, which meant it took up a great deal of my time and occupied my mind with things other than the “real” world which had become so unreal.

And what was my “real” world now? Sleeping alone, answering questions, avoiding common friends, foregoing church; all of it was an unreal world. The note I was fingering in my pocket was a glimmer of hope that the old world, the world where I was comfortable and safe was still possible. A note that the affair was over, that mistakes had been made, a note asking for forgiveness, a note of sorrow.

It wasn’t until I noticed several more stars falling in harmony that I remembered having read about the early-August meteorite showers referred to as the “tears of St. Lawrence.” St. Lawrence was an early martyr. He was burned alive on a gridiron because he believed in something more than I had ever believed. His famous line - while being burned - was, “turn me over, this side is done.” The legend says that he was killed in early August, and the meteorite shower that follows that date every year was given his name. The golden streaks across the night sky are the tears Lawrence sheds for the cruelty of men.

That I was even contemplating responding to the note left me feeling a little like Lawrence. Could I possibly consider forgiving my husband? Could I possibly be vulnerable again? I’ve been burned on this side, turn me over and do it again. But, my cause wasn’t so noble. I wasn’t a martyr. I’ve never died for anyone but me. If I gave in and pursued reconciliation, it would be because I was lonely, scared, and hopeless on my own more than for any grand idea of forgiveness and redemption.

“We’re all capable of selfishness,” I had told the annoying lady at the strawberry patch. And, as much as I might have wanted to stamp out selfishness in my own life, I wasn’t sure which act would be more selfish: giving in to my urge to call my husband because I was scared of being lonely, or ignoring his sorrow because it would be painful to reconcile.

Meteorites continued to fall as I lay on the ground in the clearing, staring up into the infiniteness of space. The golden streaks of St. Lawrence’s tears were being shed for me, but I couldn’t be sure if he was crying because I was even thinking about calling my husband, or because I hadn’t already made the call.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Of Strawberries and Salvation

sometimes a story, or story fragment, comes out of nowhere, and demands to be written...and too often i neglect my duty to capture it...other times, i take the time to let it come out, in the hope that some day, i'll have the time and energy to return to the fragment to figure out where it wants to take me...this is one of those days...and, for a change, i didn't neglect my duty...this is just a snippet of something bigger, but i'm not quite sure exactly what that is...

Of Strawberries and Salvation

I had come to “Mary’s Pick Your Own” strawberry patch early in the morning, hoping to avoid unnecessary interaction. I chose a row far from the few other women and children kneeling among the neat rows of plants. Solitude.

To my chagrin a woman in a floppy hat, a light blue sleeveless shirt, and long white shorts soon left her row, and found her way to the one next to mine.

“Are you born again?” she asked. From her tone, it seemed she already knew the answer. I tried to ignore her question, unwilling to be drawn in.

“Miss,” she insisted. “I ask’d ya, are you born again?”

I tried to smile, even though I didn’t want to encourage further discussion.

“Every day,” was my chosen response.

“You got’s get born again,” she replied.

I wanted to tell her that my “every day” comment was true. That a little bit of me dies every day, and that little bit is re-born into something better. That every day I get a little closer to the new thing I’m slowly becoming. That even though it didn’t happen in a blinding flash or instantaneous epiphany, it is still happening.

Instead, I told her, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

We continued to move along, picking the strawberries. I tried to slow my pace, hoping she would move on ahead in her row while I lagged behind, hoping to return to the seclusion of my own working. I could tell the woman in the floppy hat wanted to continue with our dialogue. I could also tell she wasn’t sure what to say next. She was prepared to evangelize had I been interested, and prepared to argue had I been argumentative. But I was neither. I was, at that moment, neutral.

So she changed the subject. “Your husband,” she asked, “he’s a church-going man?” I realized she was looking at my left hand as she spoke.

Looking down at my ring, I realized something: I no longer took care of the ring the way I used to. When we were first married, I would remove the ring to do yard work, wash dishes, even when I bathed. Drains frightened me because they were gapping mouths which would swallow up the precious ring. Now, I realized, I hadn’t removed the ring for any reason for six months. I was even here, kneeling among the strawberry plants, hands caked with soil and red from grabbing the occasional over-ripe berry.

“My husband was, in fact, a church-going man. He may still be, as far as I know. He left me six-months ago. He decided his life would be fuller if he left here, with a friend of mine.” I paused to let her digest that news, then added, “A friend of mine from the church, actually.”

“Oh,” was the only response she could muster. I searched for her eyes, but she lowered her head and left me looking at only her brown floppy hat.

I decided to continue, anyway. “I knew my friend and her husband were having trouble. We had talked about it over coffee one morning just a few weeks before. She wondered if she was expecting too much from her husband, and I told her how wonderful my own marriage was, and that she should keep believing that it is possible to have a husband who loves, and respects, and cares for her. Later that day my friend went to my husband for advice and counsel regarding her marriage and my husband’s advice was that they should be together.”

We lived in a town small enough that it was obvious that she now knew who I was. She leaned back on her heels and looked at me. Her eyes betrayed a mix of emotions. She had pity on me, and yet the look on her face betrayed the fact that what she saw in front of her didn’t match the woman she and her friends had speculated would drive a man to such an action.

“You’re Reverend Myer’s wife?”

“In the eyes of God,” was my response.

The lady in the floppy hat studied me. Her eyes narrowed, and she said, “Guess that’s what to expect from Methodists.”

The comment made me laugh. “It’s not just Methodists. It’s everybody. We’re all capable of selfishness.”

Moving quicker than she had since she started picking, the lady in the floppy hat picked up her berry basket and walked away.

Finally alone again, I looked down at the mud-caked wedding ring. The diamond was dull and dirty, the gold band flat and colorless. I removed it from my finger for the first time since I found the note he had left next to the front door. I also removed the chain from around my neck, and slid the wedding ring onto it, letting it come to rest dangling next to the medal of St. Jude which a friend had given me.

I said a prayer, kneeling there among the strawberries: A prayer for myself and a prayer for the lady in the floppy hat.

“Helper of the hopeless,” I said out loud as I gazed at the medal and ring lying side by side in my hand.

I returned the chain to my neck, and finished picking the strawberries I had come to pick.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Joy on a Saturday

Joy Posted by Hello

Just a photo placeholder for the day. Been writing a lot today, just not on here.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Florida for Friday, pt. 2 Posted by Hello

Florida for Friday, pt. 1 Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Wow! I'm so happy!

I was browsing through random Indiana blogs today, and noticed a blog with a free image hosting setup for Blogger! This makes me very happy!

I've been splitting my time between my free weblog (justeric.blogspot.com) and my free photo-log (ericswyatt.fotopages.com) and now, I can kinda do more of what I wanted with THIS blog. I'll still keep my large archives over at fotopages, but I'm very happy to have the ability to illustrate my posts here! Thank you Angela of Huntington, IN (and Notre Dame student)!!! I don't know you, but you opened the door to photos on my free blog!!!

Thursday Afternoon Blues

Blues for a Thursday
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

Specifically: "We are now in a struggle with an extremism that expresses itself in the form of terror attacks, and in that we face what is probably the gravest threat to this country's institutions, if not to its physical welfare, since the Civil War. When one tries to assess people who can find it in themselves to fly airplanes into buildings and murder 3,000 of us in a single morning, whatever else you can say about such people, they are very sure that they are right; and wouldn't it be music to their ears to hear that our spirit says we're not too sure that we are right?"

This is part of what troubles me about much of the leftist rhetoric spewing forth both about the war in general, and the prison scandal in particular. Its not that we should laugh off all criticism and ignore or cover up misdeeds done by our citizens, but the "blame America" crowd takes every single misdeed and turns it into a call for globalization, U.N.-approved and administered doling out of America's resources until our standard of living is lowered to match other parts of the world. The message we have sent as a nation over the last 20 years is that we are weak, with little or no resolve to prove we are right, and little or no moral fiber.

This is why the Islamic extremists see us as targets. We are perceived as weak, and we lack the fortitude to put up a fight. We are led by men and women who don't believe in the very concepts their country was founded on, and therefore have little resolve to defend those concepts.

President Bush changed that, at least in the short term, by putting boots on the ground in Afganistan and Iraq. Not only are we keeping the terrorists occupied within their own territory (vs. fighting them on our home soil), we are showing that we won't respond to terror by shipping plane-loads of supplies in for humanitarian aid while allowing those responsible for the terror to personally profit (see the U.N. article earlier in this blog).

Now, with the loony left demanding withdrawal of our forces, we risk the very same phenomenon that our troops encountered in Viet Nam: mainly, the resistance continues, holding out hope that if they struggle long enough, we will finally lose our will to fight anymore. The same back-stabbing tactics used by John Kerry when he returned to the US after his tour of duty are being employed in an effort to get him elected Commander in Chief of our armed forces.

First Thoughts on Iraqi Prison Abuse

From an essay I read online today:

"The current military prison abuse scandal, which is in many prominent ways a sexual abuse scandal, is an epiphany. For it manifests the reality of our culture. To see the generals and Rumsfeld himself--all from a prior generation--grapple in disbelief with the magnitude of the prison abuse scandal is to see a tremendous difference in generational formation. For a prior generation, which benefited from growing up in a culture with a conservative sexual moral consensus, it is hard to believe that professional soldiers would indulge, photograph, videotape, and take great pleasure in perverse acts. But it is not hard to believe for those of us who grew up in a different culture in which fornication and sexual license became a way of life."

There are three sides to me on this issue.

One part of me is frustrated with the obvious election-year politics of this episode which has turned something negative into an all our media feeding frenzy which has lost all perspective.

A second part of me says very much what Secretary Rumsfeld said today: I did not do this. The actions of a few do not speak for the many. This does not make me bad or evil.

But there is a third part of me that wonders if this isn't a good time to reexamine some of what we are as a society. I'm not talking about the "why do they hate us" rhetoric of the left, who would die of exasperation if we actually tried to end some of the things that cause many mainstream Muslims to hate us (rampant abortion, near-pornographic entertainment, moral laxity in general, and a la carte spirituality). But, a more internal, "where have we strayed from our original intent" conservatism.

We no longer practice Orthodox American Democracy here. Is it any wonder that the power and draw and allure that convinced so many millions of people to immigrate here is no longer visible? Yes, we are "better than [insert name of small third world country here]" in so many ways, but we have lost much of our moral compass. We have neglected, "reformed", redefined, and re-thought so much of what we were, that its hard to remember where we even started.

I'll have more, later, I'm sure, but the paragraph above spoke much to me today...

Monday, May 10, 2004

New Look Monday

Well, it appears that Blogger has added some nifty new features, and has added more "free" templates for those of us who blog only periodically (ie, we don't actually pay for the service...)

I hope to post quite a bit this week...lots on my mind, but finding the time to write is a bit of a problem right now.

For now, I'll say I've found a new political/military/thriller author who has replaced Clancy in my grubby little "I need something fun to read" hands: Vince Flynn. I'm reading/finishing "Term Limits" right now and will soon be diving into "Executive Power".

I'm also working to see if I can get the Blogger-resident comments working, so I don't have to use the Squawkbox comments anymore (mostly just because it is a bit of a hassle to use a third-party comment system...I've been pretty happy with Squawkbox, but I also don't have a large volume of comments...).